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HOLMBERG: ROC Church ‘parsonage’ worth $590,000

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) — Pastor Geronimo Aguilar of the Richmond Outreach Center, who is currently in Fort Worth, Texas being arraigned on sex charges, lives in a $590,000 home in South Richmond with his family.

But he doesn’t own it. It’s the ROC church’s parsonage, according to property records. And as a parsonage, it is tax exempt. Technically, Aguilar – the founder of the popular Richmond megachurch – and his family can deduct every living expense, from light bulbs to lawn care.

CBS 6 checked the property records of the homes of the other pastors of megachurches in the area, and other random big ones as well.

All are either owned by the pastors, or a trust in the pastor’s name, property records show.

(What are the area’s megachurches? Click here to find out.)

What appears to be the area’s largest church with 6,200 members, St. Paul’s Baptist, is pastored by Reverend Lance Watson. He owns a $740,000 home in the Matoaca District of Chesterfield.

Slightly smaller with 5,000 members is Faith Landmarks Ministries in Henrico. Pastor Randy Gilbert lives in a $1.3 million dollar mansion in Mechanicsville, which is in a trust in his name.

The West End Assembly of God is more than 2,000 strong. Its senior pastor, John Hershman, owns a $215,000 home in Henrico.

Dr. Mark Becton, pastor of Grove Avenue Baptist Church, is the owner of a $380,000 home in Henrico County.

And Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones, Pastor of First Baptist of South Richmond, is the trustee of a quarter-million-dollar property in South Richmond.

“Pastor G” Aguilar of the ROC Church is the only one of the pastors among those we checked who lives in a parsonage.

His attorney, David Carlson, said the home was bought for Pastor G by a church member, and Aguilar wanted it designated as a parsonage for whoever leads the church he founded.  “That’s the kind of guy he is,” Carlson said.

But the parsonage designation has come under fire by organizations and publications in recent months as pastors of other megachurches in other states  have sheltered their multimillion-dollar mansions  – sometimes more than one – from taxes in this manner.

Ellen Aprill of Loyola University in California, considered to be a national expert on religious tax exemptions, told CBS-6 there is no absolute dollar limit on parsonages, other than it must be approved in some way by the congregation prior to the time the pastor gets to work. There are requirements in the code that many churches seem to be unaware of, she said.

And another section of the tax code – which many people do not realize does apply to churches – does require that compensation be reasonable, she said in an email.

Is a $591,000 parsonage reasonable for a church that says it minsters to the down and out?

To this layman, it seems this parsonage exemption is quite vague. Plenty of room for interpretation, and abuse.

But it looks like the spirit of the code is these houses shouldn’t be too extravagant, and church leaders shouldn’t be too apart or above those they serve.

And should preachers and pastors live in luxury, free from the taxes that the rest of us must pay?

Please check the resource links below and interpret the tax exemption yourself.

  1. IRS code: http://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc417.html
  2. IRS Guide for Churches and Clergy: http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p1828.pdf
  3. Interpretation: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/26/107
  4. Another interpretation: http://www.jlaw.com/Articles/Demystifying.pdf

Articles:

  1. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424053111903635604576476340089320176.html?KEYWORDS=LAURA+SAUNDERS
  2. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/religion/story/2012-06-15/religious-tax-exemption-challenged/55629908/1
  3. http://secular.org/issues/eliminate-taxpayer-funded-housing-clergy

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